Christian Larson argues that the defect in many systems of belief is that what are partial truths are taken to be the whole truth. It is in virtue of that portion of truth that the whole “system” or world view is even plausible. As an example of such a half-truth rounded up to a whole falsehood, Larson critiques what sounds like either idealism or the superstitious belief in the Law of Attraction and the power of positive thinking (a la Rhonda Byme’s The Secret). Larson’s critique in this excerpt of that idea — that “thinking makes it so”, that our mental powers in themselves are so potent that they can determine reality — begs questions, since he was, after all, a major proponent of New Thought. What interests me is his more general observation that the shortcoming in many systems of thought is that they are overblown half-truths. Truths are taken for the truth. His words are one entry into an ongoing project along these lines, collected in “Half-Truths“. ~ Nate
One of the most trying defects which I find in these — these — what shall I call them? for I will not apply injurious epithets to them, the way they do to us, such violations of courtesy being repugnant to my nature and my dignity. The farthest I can go in that direction is to call them by names of limited reverence — names merely descriptive, never unkind, never offensive, never tainted by harsh feeling. If they would do like this, they would feel better in their hearts. Very well, then — to proceed. One of the most trying defects which I find in these Stratfordolaters, these Shakesperiods, these thugs, these bangalores, these troglodytes, these herumfrodites, these blatherskites, these buccaneers, these bandoleers, is their spirit of irreverence. It is detectable in every utterance of theirs when they are talking about us. I am thankful that in me there is nothing of that spirit. When a thing is sacred to me it is impossible for me to be irreverent toward it. I cannot call to mind a single instance where I have ever been irreverent, except toward the things which were sacred to other people. Am I in the right? I think so. But I ask no one to take my unsupported word; no, look at the dictionary; let the dictionary decide. Here is the definition:
A salient feature of the success of any social, religious, or moral movement is the degree to which its advocates understand, shape, and employ the flow of ideas that forms the intellectual backdrop against which those advocates carry out their work. Setting aside Marxist and other self-refuting materialist forms of social determinism, it seems clear that ideas are among the primary things that impede or facilitate revolutionary movements. ¶ Nowhere is this more evident than the pro-life cause. But just exactly what ideas constitute the core components of the milieu in which pro-life advocates live and move and have their being? I am not a sociologist nor the son of one, and I am no expert in the sociology of knowledge. However, I am a philosopher and, as such, I have a take on this question upon which I believe it is important for us to reflect.
One of the greatest of the problems that have agitated the Church is the problem of the relation between knowledge and piety, between culture and Christianity. This problem has appeared first of all in the presence of two tendencies in the Church — the scientific or academic tendency, and what may be called the practical tendency. Some men have devoted themselves chiefly to the task of forming right conceptions as to Christianity and its foundations. To them no fact, however trivial, has appeared worthy of neglect; by them truth has been cherished for its own sake, without immediate reference to practical consequences. Some, on the other hand, have emphasized the essential simplicity of the gospel. The world is lying in misery, we ourselves are sinners, men are perishing in sin every day. The gospel is the sole means of escape; let us preach it to the world while yet we may. So desperate is the need that we have no time to engage in vain babblings or old wives’ fables. While we are discussing the exact location of the churches of Galatia, men are perishing under the curse of the law; while we are settling the date of Jesus’ birth, the world is doing without its Christmas message.
If Naturalism is true, every finite thing or event must be (in principle) explicable in terms of the Total System. I say ‘explicable in principle‘ because of course we are not going to demand that naturalists, at any given moment, should have found the detailed explanation of every phenomenon. Obviously many things will only be explained when the sciences have made further progress. But if Naturalism is to be accepted we have a right to demand that every single thing should be such that we see, in general, how it could be explained in terms of the Total System. If any one thing exists which is of such a kind that we see in advance the impossibility of ever giving it that kind of explanation, then Naturalism would be in ruins. If necessities of thought force us to allow to any one thing any degree of independence from the Total System — if any one thing makes good a claim to be on its own, to be something more than an expression of the character of Nature as a whole-then we have abandoned Naturalism. For by Naturalism we mean the doctrine that only Nature — the whole interlocked system — exists. And if that were true, every thing and event would, if we knew enough, be explicable without remainder (no heel-taps) as a necessary product of the system. The whole system being what it is, it ought to be a contradiction in terms if you were not reading this book at the moment; and, conversely, the only cause why you are reading it ought to be that the whole system, at such and such a place and hour, was bound to take that course.
Christianity, as a human activity, involves much more than simply believing certain propositions about matters of fact, such as that there is a God, that He created this world, that He is our judge. But it does involve believing these things, and this believing is, in a sense, fundamental; not that it matters more than the other things that a Christian does, but that it is presupposed in the other things that he does, or in the manner in which he does them. This is a fact, but it is in some ways an awkward fact, and for many years some theologians have tried to sidestep it. It is an awkward fact because, for example, if one professes certain beliefs, it seems that one ought to be willing to offer some kind of grounds for them. Yet we all know that it is difficult, and some think it is impious, to offer adequate grounds for the faith. Again — a requirement which has become more prominent with recent developments in philosophy — if one professes certain beliefs it seems that one ought to be willing to map out, roughly at any rate, the extent of the claims one is making by saying what is compatible and what is incompatible with them; and that again, in the case of religious beliefs, is something which is difficult to do, for reasons which will be considered in this chapter. Therefore some theologians have tried to sidestep these problems by denying that the Christian religion involves anything that may fairly be called factual beliefs about a transcendent being. That, it is said, is metaphysics , and religion has no interest in metaphysics. A simple-minded move, that has had its devotees, consists in saying that we do not believe that there is a God; we believe in God. More sophisticated apologists have urged that credal affirmations may, without significant loss, be treated as equivalent to recommendations of the behaviour and attitudes that are agreed on all hands to be their proper corollaries. ‘There is a God’ thus becomes equivalent, or nearly equivalent, to something like: ‘Treat all men as brothers, and revere the mystery of the universe.’ Beliefs are said to be merely the expression — the somewhat misleading expression — of an attitude of worship. ¶ But, in spite of the piety and wisdom of those who have been seduced by them, these expedients must be denounced as evasions. The distinction between believing that and believing in is, of course, valid; but it does not help us, for believing in is logically subsequent to believing that.
Any contribution to our Natural History literature from the pen of Mr. C. Darwin is certain to command attention. His scientific attainments, his insight and carefulness as an observer, blended with no scanty measure of imaginative sagacity, and his clear and lively style, make all his writings unusually attractive. His present volume on the ‘ Origin of Species’ is the result of many years of observation, thought, and speculation; and is manifestly regarded by him as the ‘opus’ upon which his future fame is to rest. It is true that he announces it modestly enough as the mere precursor of a mightier volume. But that volume is only intended to supply the facts which are to support the completed argument of the present essay. In this we have a specimen-collection of the vast accumulation; and, working from these as the high analytical mathematician may work from the admitted results of his conic sections, he proceeds to deduce all the conclusions to which he wishes to conduct his readers.
Pathos or emotion-based appeals are common and often effective in political life, but emotion and cognition are deeply intertwined, and emotion need not detract from, but rather may be a prerequisite for, “reasoned” deliberation. Consistent with this, perhaps we can draw on the force of the emotions underlying our commitment to civil discourse to help create an ethic, culture and set of institutional incentives for civil discourse. These would aim to dramatically reduce purposive or careless deception, falsehood and “misinformation,” exaggerated claims, verbal abuse and intimidation, ad hominem attacks and personal vitriol, while enhancing issue-focused discussion, empathy and mutual respect, as well as willingness to debate in good faith, listen as much as we speak, consider the evidence, explain the reasoning behind our points of view, and remain open to ideas and evidence suggesting that our established opinions could be wrong, so that we can hear and consider seriously the reasons of those with whom we disagree. All of this would be consistent with the necessarily passionate debates, fundamental disagreements, and First Amendment principles that characterize a vibrant representative democracy. Read the full brief.
There is a widespread assumption amongst non-philosophers, which is shared by a good many practising philosophers too, that ‘progress’ is never really made in philosophy, and above all in metaphysics. In this respect, philosophy is often compared, for the most part unfavourably, with the empirical sciences, and especially the natural sciences, such as physics, chemistry and biology. Sometimes, philosophy is defended on the grounds that to deplore the lack of ‘progress’ in it is to misconceive its central aim, which is to challenge and criticise received ideas and assumptions rather than to advance positive theses. But this defence itself is liable to be attacked by the practitioners of other disciplines as unwarranted special pleading on the part of philosophers, whose comparative lack of expertise in other disciplines, it will be said, ill-equips them to play the role of all-purpose intellectual critic. It is sometimes even urged that philosophy is now ‘dead’, the relic of a pre-scientific age whose useful functions, such as they were, have been taken over at last by genuine sciences. What were once ‘philosophical’ questions have now been transmuted, allegedly, into questions for more specialised modes of scientific inquiry, with their own distinctive methodological principles and theoretical foundations.
Many people are perplexed, even troubled, by the fact that God (if such there be) has not made His existence sufficiently clear. This fact—the fact of divine hiddenness—is a source of existential concern for many people. That is, it raises problems about their very existence, particularly its value and purpose. The fact of divine hiddenness is also, according to some people, a source of good evidence against the existence of God. That is, it allegedly poses a cognitive problem for theism, in the form of evidence challenging the assumption that God exists. (Here and throughout we speak of “God” as broadly represented in the historic Jewish and Christian theistic traditions.)